- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

LONDON (AP) — Lawmakers held an emergency debate yesterday on an extradition treaty with the United States, just hours before three British bankers were due to be sent to Houston to face trial on Enron-related fraud charges.

The debate was held too late to prevent the extradition of the so-called “NatWest Three,” but it increased pressure on the government to reconsider the treaty, drawn up in the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to speed up the prosecution of suspected terrorists.

Critics say the agreement is unfair because it has not been ratified by the United States, meaning that U.S. authorities do not have to provide as high a degree of evidence to seek the extradition of a British citizen as is the case vice versa.

“We’re all aware that tomorrow morning, three British citizens are to be extradited to the United States on the basis of an unfair, imbalanced treaty that this government negotiated in secret and to which it devoted the most cursory parliamentary scrutiny imaginable,” said Nick Clegg, Home Affairs spokesman for the opposition Liberal Democrat party.

The debate, a symbolic measure that is rarely allowed, lasted three hours as National Westminster Bank employees David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby prepared for their departure from Britain early today.

The men, who have denied charges that they attempted to sell a part of an Enron Corp. company for less than it was worth, will be accompanied by U.S. marshals on a morning flight to the former oil company’s home state of Houston for a bail hearing.

Meanwhile, a British banker who was questioned by U.S. authorities in connection with the Enron scandal has been found dead, British news reports said yesterday.

The man’s body was found Tuesday in a park in East London, but police declined to identify him. The Royal Bank of Scotland, however, sent condolences to the family of Neil Coulbeck, one of the bank’s senior employees who had been questioned by the FBI in the case of the three British bankers facing Enron-related fraud charges. The British Broadcasting Corp. and other news outlets also identified the man as Mr. Coulbeck, 53.

Police would not say how he died, but homicide officers were investigating.

Mr. Bermingham said Mr. Coulbeck was among several bank executives who had given statements to U.S. authorities in connection with their case.

The three bankers’ case is the first high-profile test of the treaty, which came into force in February 2004, and opposition lawmakers want to pile pressure on the government to halt any further extradition until the United States ratifies it. Home Office Minister Patricia Scotland is flying to Washington today to urge the Senate to do so.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said that the level of evidence required by U.S. authorities to extradite a suspect was “roughly analogous to the one that we apply in this country.”

Mr. Blair added that the three men would have been extradited even before the treaty took effect.

“They would indeed have been extradited under the old treaty,” Mr. Blair told the House of Commons before the full debate.

Mr. Clegg said, however, that it was impossible to determine whether that was the case.

Several opposition Conservative Party lawmakers joined the criticism, and lawmakers voted to adjourn the Commons early as a symbolic protest of the extradition. That followed a 218-116 vote Tuesday in favor of suspending the Extradition Act in the House of Lords, the upper house.

The three bankers have said they would be willing to face a court in Britain.

Mr. Blair said he had been advised that U.S. prosecutors would not oppose bail for the three men “as long as the appropriate conditions are put in place by the court or agreed to by the defendants.” His office declined to specify whether that would involve bail in Britain or the United States, and referred questions to the attorney general’s office, which also declined to comment.

Each of the men was indicted in 2002 on seven counts of wire fraud for bilking their former employer, National Westminster Bank, of $7.3 million.

They are charged with advising NatWest in 2000 to sell part of an Enron business for less than the stake was worth in a scheme devised with Andrew Fastow, former finance chief of the collapsed Houston energy trader, and his colleague, managing director Michael Kopper.

The three men then left NatWest, bought into the Enron business themselves and sold it for a much higher figure, each making about $2.6 million in the process, U.S. prosecutors say.

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